Monday, April 16, 2012

All Work, All Plays

Though the readings performed at the 15th Annual Playwrights Festival (PPF) don’t have the sets, costumes, and lighting that SCR audiences are accustomed to, for theatre lovers, it’s one of the most anticipated weekends of the year.  Each year, this forum for new play readings gives a glimpse of what’s to come in American theatre, and helps to shape the upcoming seasons of SCR, as well as many other theatres from around the country.

Playwrights Catherine Trieschmann and Meg Miroshnik and dramaturg Abigail Gonda; playwright Steven Drukman (foreground), Brett Ryback, Adam Arkin and Matthew Arkin in rehearsal for The Prince of Atlantis; playwright and composer Adam Gwon and musical director Dennis Castellano in rehearsal for Cloudlands.

“PPF is the most exciting 48 hours in our entire season,” says Festival Director and SCR Associate Artistic Director John Glore. “Chances are good that audience members are going to see a play that will go on to be very prominent in American theatre.”

For the past 14 years, SCR has sifted through hundreds of new play submissions to glean the most promising scripts to be read at PPF. After hearing the scripts read aloud by talented professional actors, SCR will often commit to producing a play the following season—this year’s The Prince of Atlantis was read at PPF last year. But SCR isn’t the only theatre looking for the next big thing.

“When we first started PPF 14 years ago, more and more young, promising writers were drifting away from writing for theatre because they couldn’t make enough money to live on,” says Glore. “And while SCR had already established itself as a supporter of emerging artists, we can only do so much on our own.” PPF was born as a way of bringing new work to representatives from major theatres across the country, in hopes that these fledgling plays will be picked up for a full production.

 “We bring in guests from other large theatres to do a little window-shopping,” says Glore. “And we hope they do some real shopping and decide to pick up one of the plays to produce.”

Of the 99 PPF readings over the past 14 years, 85 have gone on to full-scale productions at SCR or other major theatres.

Jarrett Sleeper and Kirsten Potter in rehearsal for How the World Began; Adam Arkin, Stephanie Marick and Matthew Arkin;
Tessa Auberjonois and Nick Ullet in rehearsal for The Droll.  All photos by Scott Brinegar.

Not all the plays read at SCR are completely untested. Most years, about half of the PPF readings and productions are SCR commissions that have been in various stages of development for up to several years. One of these commissions this year is Cloudlands, a highly anticipated new musical from Octavio Solis and Adam Gwon. Solis has received several commissions from SCR in the past, and had been collaborating with Gwon on the book and lyrics for Cloudlands for about year when it was selected for a reading.

“PPF gave us our first opportunity to see how Cloudlands would play in front of an audience,” says Glore. “That feedback was vital to the play.” The musical was officially added to SCR’s 2011-2012 shortly after, and another two-week workshop in January with feedback garnered from the PPF reading helped further polish the show, which begins previews this week.

But it’s not all business at PPF. The event is punctuated with lots of good food and good times—all part of successful weekend. “You can always tell if people are enjoying themselves and the plays,” says Glore. “And they always do. It’s a festival, after all. We want it to be festive.”

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